The creation of a decentralised, trustworthy, sustainable and inclusive Internet is a central aim of the European Commission’s Next Generation Internet (NGI) Initiative, delegates at the Future of Internet Conference – entering a New Age of Intelligent Data and Connectivity conference heard.
This objective will be achieved in part through investing in individuals with innovative ideas of how to turn this vision into reality. At the same time, seamless interconnectivity will require multi-stakeholder involvement and cooperative governance at the global level.
These were some of the key points raised at the conference by Pearse O’Donohue, Director of Future Networks Directorate, and Olivier Bringer, Head of Unit at Next Generation Internet, both from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology. The event took place on 6 June 2019 in Brussels.
The future of the Internet
The first conference session, entitled Rethinking the future of the Internet – Objectives, priorities, opportunities, examined some of the opportunities and challenges that digital technologies present. Mr O’Donohue stressed the importance of using European values to frame this discussion as well as the need to invest in innovation.
“The NGI initiative is a holistic approach to this challenge, and focuses on areas where we can have an impact,” he explained. “The Internet needs to put the individual at the centre, and this is what this initiative seeks to do.” Mr O’Donohue explained that the NGI Initiative funds innovative projects designed to enhance privacy and trust; decentralise data governance; and move towards a more human-centric Internet. He pointed out that bringing data storage closer to users will also help Europe achieve energy efficiencies.
In terms of governance, Mr O’Donohue noted that many sectors have typically worked in silos. With the advent of hyper-connectivity and the Internet of Things (IoT), this is no longer an option. “At the same time, we need to ensure that individuals immersed in IoT have the ability to control data, and that this is safely used for the good of society,” he added.
Other panel speakers echoed many of Mr O’Donohue’s points. Elena Plexida from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) stressed the importance of the Internet’s open architecture. There is a need to differentiate between the Internet itself and what is on the Internet, she added. Maria Rautavirta, Director, Data Business Unit at Data Department, Ministry of Transport and Communications, Finland agreed that the emergence of hyper-connectivity world brings new levels of complexity that must be dealt with collectively.
Empowering individuals and society
The second conference session, entitled From the Internet of Things to the Internet of Humans: Empowering Individuals and Unleashing the Power of their Data, explored how an open, decentralised internet that serves and empowers people can be developed. Mr Bringer outlined some of the tools and instruments that the EU has in place to benefit citizens, including the GDPR, cybersecurity certification and eIDAS. “The important thing to note is that all these instruments are recent,” he said. “To achieve implementation, we need new technologies.”
The NGI Initiative is addressing this by investing in people with new ideas. “The aim is to fund people who might need a push to get started,” he said. “We launched the first open call at the beginning 2019 and this has been extremely successful. We have received many proposals from individual innovators, many of whom are not already affiliated with EU R&D programmes.”
Mr Bringer expected some of these projects to begin before the summer. “The NGI is a key initiative and we will be investing in this for the next ten years,” he said. “To develop these technologies here in Europe, we need to invest. These projects will help build the building blocks of the Internet of tomorrow. At the Next Generation Internet Forum, in Helsinki, on 25th September, we will gather Internet innovators and present our further opportunities.”
During the panel discussion, Ceren Ünal, Regional Policy Manager- Europe, Internet Society discussed the importance of ensuring that privacy and security in connected devices are built in from the start, while Guillermo Beltrà, Global Policy Director, Access Now stressed the importance of making sure that technologies respect our values. Shiv Malik, Head of Comms & Marketing, Streamr agreed that the Internet should be centred around individuals. Esmeralde Marsman, Process Manager Client Innovation Centre, City of Rotterdam discussed the opportunities and challenges of building an inclusive Smart City.